JFK's Diary Entry About Adolf Hitler That Would Turn Heads Today

John F. Kennedy was elected as the 35th President of the United States in 1960 at 43 years old. Kennedy took power in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and led America through the Cuban missile crisis, perhaps the closest the Cold War came to starting a full nuclear war (via History). Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," is likely the most well-known quote from his inaugural address. However in that speech he also implored the world to join together to fight what he called the "common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself" (via JFK Library).

Kennedy was no stranger to war and the damage it caused. During World War II he served as a commander of a patrol torpedo boat in the South Pacific (via JFK Library). Following an incident in which a Japanese ship sank his boat, Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal as well as the Purple Heart for his leadership and courage, per History. Knowing Kennedy's experience in WWII, it's interesting to see what he had to say about Adolf Hitler, a man responsible for causing many of Kennedy's "common enemies of man," in his diary.

Dictatorship in Germany

Adolf Hitler was the chancellor and Führer of Nazi Germany from 1933 until his death in 1945 (via Britannica). He served as a complete dictator, often maintaining power through the use of violence. Starting with the annexation of Austria, his birth country, Hitler attempted to expand Germany's territorial gains in Europe. This expansion and his aggressive military tactics are ultimately the main reason that World War II began (via Britannica). He was also one of the main architects of the holocaust, one of the worst genocides in history, that killed 6 million Jews in concentration camps during World War II per the National World War II Museum. All of this seems to be in direct opposition to what Kennedy stood for and even fought against.

In 1945, after the end of the war and his service, Kennedy toured Europe as a newspaper reporter and was able to tour Hitler's Bavarian mountain retreat (via BBC). In his personal diary, Kennedy, just 28 years old at the time, wrote about the now-deceased dictator's character and his place in history. Kennedy's view is surprising given he witnessed firsthand what Hitler had caused through his role in World War II.

The stuff of legends

In what is thought to be the only diary kept by Kennedy, he wrote, "Hitler will emerge from the hatred that surrounds him now as one of the most significant figures who ever lived," and added that, "He (Hitler) had in him the stuff of which legends are made," according to the BBC. In another diary entry, Kennedy wrote that Hitler "had boundless ambition for his country which rendered him a menace to the peace of the world, but he had a mystery about him in the way he lived and in the manner of his death that will live and grow after him" (via the BBC).

This is seemingly high praise for a man who had just singlehandedly sent the entire world into a massively devastating war. Deidre Henderson, a former research assistant for Kennedy, who was given the diary by Kennedy, says that is not how it should be interpreted. 

In a description of the diary prior to auctioning it off, Henderson wrote, "When JFK said that Hitler 'had in him the stuff of which legends are made,' he was speaking to the mystery surrounding him, not the evil he demonstrated to the world," and continued on to say, "Nowhere in this diary, or in any of his writings, is there any indication of sympathy for Nazi crimes or cause" (via BBC). Kennedy's career in politics working for a more equal world makes it clear that Henderson was correct in her interpretation of the diary.